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Roth: Overshooting our planet Earth

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on August 7, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Overshooting our planet Earth

As of Aug. 2, we earthlings consumed more natural resources than Earth can renew throughout the entire calendar year. Eight months and a day into 2017 and we have tipped past the point of sustaining ourselves as a species. This day each year has become known as Earth Overshoot Day and it has been occurring five days sooner each year.

According to the Global Footprint Network, an international research organization, “we use more ecological resources and services than nature can regenerate through overfishing, overharvesting forests, and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than forests can sequester.”

And while sounding the alarm, GFN also offers some practical, real-world (pun intended) global ideas for improving our planet’s sustainability, in four main categories: food, cities, population and energy.

All human beings require food to survive and sadly too many are faced with too little, and even here in Oklahoma food scarcity is a serious threat to many people. While it is estimated that food demand makes up 26 percent of the global ecological footprint, two major issues help understand what drives this challenge.

First, food production is rife with inefficiencies and animal calories are significantly more resource-intensive to produce than plant calories, and so countries like China are actively working to reduce meat consumption by 50 percent per person by 2030.

Food waste is also a causative issue, with almost 33 percent of all food produced worldwide being wasted or lost. Here in the United States, an estimated 40 percent of all food goes to waste and there are efforts underway via UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 to halve the per capita global food waste at both the consumer and retail levels by 2030. These objectives would move the Overshoot Day back 11 days if successful.

Energy is certainly something we Oklahomans know a good deal about and we do so because we are that rare donor as a state, meaning we produce more forms of energy than we consume. But our individual footprints are still an area of concern when you consider the broader effect. And even though the current American president has indicated his intention to remove the federal U.S. government from the 2015 Paris Accord on Climate, 99 percent of the rest of the world remains committed.

As it relates to energy, this nearly unanimous consensus centers around decarbonizing the world economy, which is not welcome news if you are in the energy production business and your product contains large amounts of carbon. But if you are in, or moving toward, low- and no-carbon energies, your horizon is looking brighter based upon the UN Sustainable Development Goal 7 for Affordable and Clean Energy and its stated promise. Goal 7 calls for increasing the share of renewable energy in the world’s energy mix by 2030, reduces the carbon component of humanity’s footprint by 50 percent and would move back the Overshoot Day by 89 days, almost three months. This goal alone, as detailed in the Paris Accord on Climate, would make the Earth three months more sustainable in just the next 13 years.

It’s perhaps because of this enormous potential that last month 19 nations of the world’s largest economies recommitted themselves, in a joint statement of the G20, to the accord and the goals within it. For there is always one thing we earthlings share in common and that’s the reality this third planet from the sun is the only place in the universe known to harbor life.

Moreover, if you are curious about your own ecological footprint, that specific date in which you and your habits shot past the Earth’s renew point, you can download your own footprint calculator at www.footprintcalculator.org.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: A reprieve for ethanol?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on July 31, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

A reprieve for ethanol?

Have you ever driven by a gas or convenience station and saw a “100% real gasoline” sign posted proudly by the station owner?

In this summer driving season, I bet you have seen such signs somewhere in Oklahoma or elsewhere in America. At the heart of the “real gasoline” claim is that no amount of ethanol or other alternative fuel additive comprises the gallon of gasoline for your vehicle, but instead it’s derived 100 percent from petroleum. And believe it or not, the oil industry and the Obama administration both agreed in recent years that less ethanol in Americans’ gas tanks was a good thing and was legally possible for the 2016 total renewable fuel volume requirements rule determined by the Environmental Protection Agency.

That was, at least, until the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July that Obama’s EPA and the oil industry and refiners were both wrong, giving a major victory to the ethanol and alternative fuels industries instead, when it rejected the EPA’s use of an inadequate domestic supply waiver to reduce ethanol levels in gasoline.

Congress adopted the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2005 and expanded it in 2007, both times signed by President George W. Bush. The program requires oil refiners to blend increasing volumes of renewable fuels with gasoline and diesel, culminating with 36 billion gallons in 2022. This has led to a domestic biofuels industry that some seem to either love or hate because of its effect on domestic oil prices and its environmental pros and cons.

On average, a 42-gallon barrel of crude oil yields about 19 gallons of gasoline when processed at an oil refinery. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there are 137 operating oil refineries in America, including four in Oklahoma: Ardmore (Valero), Ponca City (Phillips 66), Tulsa (HollyFrontier) and Wynnewood (CVR Energy). These refineries are industrial process plants where crude is processed into gasoline, diesel, asphalt base and other petroleum products. And while many in the industry feel there aren’t enough refineries in America to bring refined petroleum products to market quicker, most everyone now believes there is more than enough supply of domestic oil. Today there are no ethanol plants in Oklahoma.

Each year the EPA sets a new national renewable fuel mandate, via public rule promulgation process, to create what’s called the Annual Renewable Fuel Standard, and in that process it can be allowed a waiver to lower the amounts or ethanol and alternatives. It did so in 2015 for the 2016 standard as it does each year, but the alternative fuel industries sued, alleging that the EPA abused its authority. The former EPA, and the oil industry supporting its approach, apparently ran afoul of the law encouraging ethanol by going beyond the simple question of adequacy of supply of the alternative fuels themselves, when it tried to consider whether there were adequate biofuel refueling stations and ethanol pumps at gasoline stations. These types of market issues, according to the court, go beyond the EPA’s legal discretion.

So now, the new EPA will have to redo the 2016 standard requirements that were already implemented, but here we are in the second half of 2017. It might make more sense for Congress to revisit the law now that the reality for domestic energies has changed so dramatically since 2005.

But then again, it might be easier for the EPA to build a time machine in 2017 to craft a fuel standard for 2016 today, rather than Congress to do anything.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: What the H?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on July 24, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

What the H?

Those early, and perhaps forgotten, lessons from middle school chemistry class of the periodic table may be coming around again as America and the world explore new fuel sources for our future.

Hydrogen, that chemical element with the symbol H and the atomic number of 1, is the lightest element on the periodic table. It has the lowest density of all gases, which makes it attractive as a fuel source, plus it is the most abundant chemical substance in the entire universe known to man, with NASA estimating its abundance at 75 percent of known particles.

Because of this abundance and this weight advantage for travel, some see hydrogen gas as the clean fuel of the future – generated from water and returning to water when it is oxidized.

Yet hydrogen has been put to good use for centuries, having been first artificially created in early 16th-century industrial application of acids to metals. Today, its uses can be found across industries as it:

  • Is used to make ammonia for fertilizer (the Haber process).
  • Is used to make cyclohexane and methanol, which are intermediates in the production of plastics and pharmaceuticals.
  • Helps remove sulfur from fuels in oil refining.
  • Filler for balloons; and previously for “airships” until the Hindenburg caught fire.
  • Compressed hydrogen is the fuel for hydrogen-powered vehicles.

This last use is growing faster than any other is and many think the positive attributes of H mean it has a very promising future in a carbon-constrained future world. As the simplest element in existence, by weight, it has the highest energy content of any fuel. It is not found on Earth as a gas, because it is lighter than air, so it rises into the atmosphere; thus, it must be manufactured.

The U.S. produces about 9 million tons per year. It is associated with other elements such as water, coal and petroleum. Since it is generated from water and returns to water when it is oxidized, it is a low-polluting fuel. It can be shipped by pipeline, sometimes cheaper than electricity over wires, which again adds to its allure as a fuel.

Hydrogen must be separated from other compounds due to it not being naturally found on Earth existing by itself. There are two ways to accomplish this: electrolysis (water splitting) and steam reforming, with the latter being the less expensive, commonly seen in industries to separate hydrogen from carbon atoms in natural gas, which consists primarily of methane, which unfortunately does emit greenhouse gases.

Electrolysis on the other hand, emits no greenhouse gases, but is still very expensive today. The process splits water into its basic elements through an electric current. Experimental methods include photo-electrolysis and biomass gasification.

The U.S. Department of Energy has some interesting ideas for a future hydrogen energy infrastructure across America. The hydrogen is compressed up to pipeline pressure and then fed into a transmission pipeline. The pipeline transports the hydrogen to a compressed gas terminal where the hydrogen is loaded into compressed gas tube trailers. A truck delivers the tube trailers to a station where the hydrogen is further compressed, stored, and dispensed to fuel cell vehicles for consumers or business.

Fuel cell vehicles, also known as FCV, look like conventional vehicles, but use innovative technologies with fuel cells instead of gasoline tanks or electric vehicle batteries. Similar to a compressed natural gas vehicle’s “vessel,” the heart of the FCV is the fuel cell stack. The stack converts hydrogen gas stored onboard with oxygen from the air into electricity, which powers the vehicle’s electric motor. The fuel cell market is in its infancy but poised for growth as Toyota’s 2015 rollout of the Mirai joins Hyundai’s FCV Tucson as the only commercially available today. They refuel in five minutes and drive approximately 300 miles. Unfortunately, there are very few hydrogen-dispensing pumps, although California is making good headway.

And before you jump to this new, albeit exciting fuel source vehicle, please know that today South Carolina and California are the closest fuel locations to Oklahoma. But the times, they are a changin’ – come H or high water.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Dry heat and the heat index

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on July 17, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Dry heat and the heat index

Friends have tried to convince me for years that 110-plus degrees in Arizona’s summer is fine because it’s a “dry heat.” I’ve scoffed for years because the only dry heat I feel familiar with is my oven, which is not an inviting idea at all. But now that we Oklahomans are into a scorcher of a summer here, I am beginning to think those dry-heat believers may be onto something because I’m learning the heat index is a real thing. And it can feel miserable.

Bear with me for a bit while I describe the discomfort we feel when we our body can’t cool itself down because the atmosphere’s moisture content works against us. I hope you are reading this inside somewhere in an air-conditioned space.

According to the National Weather Service, the heat index is what the temperature feels like to our bodies when the air temperature is combined with relative humidity. That is the apparent temperature. The index effect can work against the body’s natural methods of sweating or perspiring to cool itself off, as the sweat is unable to evaporate because relative humidity, or atmospheric moisture content, is high. This humid reality, in turn, causes the human body to actually feel warmer than the air temperature alone.

Conversely, there are times when relative humidity can be so low that the apparent temperature actually feels lower than the air temperature. But I’m not sure that has ever occurred in sunny, humid Oklahoma.

And there are serious reasons to monitor the heat index, especially if you spend a lot of time outside during the summer months or you’ve lived long enough to witness a lot of summers. Heat stroke and similar risks can occur to people of all ages:

• Caution: 80-90 degrees: Fatigue possible with prolonged exposure or physical activity.

• Extreme Caution: 90 to 103 degrees: Heat stroke, heat cramps, or heat exhaustion possible with prolonged exposure or physical activity.

• Danger: 103 to 124 degrees: Heat cramps or heat exhaustion likely, and heat stroke possible with prolonged exposure or physical activity.

• Extreme Danger: 125 degrees or higher: Heat stroke highly likely.

Local news outlets certainly cover the expected heat indices each day, but if you are inclined to monitor it yourself, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a great monitor and calculator available on its website at www.wpc.ncep.noaa.gov/html/heatindex.shtml.

And while you are there you may also read its scientific determination that the United States has so far this year experienced the second hottest year-to-date on record and a warmer-than-average June.

So please be safe during these grueling hot and humid months in Oklahoma. While we definitely need more rain in most every areas of our great state, it’s hard to pray for rain and dry heat in the same breath.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: When power attacks science

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on July 10, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

When power attacks science

What do Okemah, Oklahoma, today’s EPA and Galileo have in common? Life lessons about the resilience of science across the history of humankind, even when those in power would attack it for political gain. Allow me to explain.

The Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, in Guthrie’s hometown of Okemah, is set for another music celebration July 12- 16, as it’s always scheduled around his July 14 birthday. Begun in 1998, WoodyFest continues to attract world-renowned folk and rock music performers, including an artist who caught my ear named Ellis Paul. Paul attended that first year and continues to visit each year. His music is a folk-pop style that can be provocative and his lyrics have stayed with me since I first heard them, including his song Did Galileo Pray?

The song tells the story of Galileo Galilei, the famed 17th-century astronomer attacked by religious leaders for his role in the scientific revolution of the day, including telescopic confirmation of the phases of Venus, the moons of Jupiter and sunspots. He was tried in the Roman Inquisition in 1615 and found “vehemently suspect of heresy” for contradicting scriptures, and he was forced to spend the rest of his life under house arrest.

Singer Ellis Paul’s lyrics ask:

When he looked into a starry sky upon Jupiter, with its cold moons making their weary rounds.

Did he know that the Pope would claim that he ran with Lucifer and a prison cell could be where he’d lay his head down?

Was he wearing a thorny crown? When he plotted the motion of planets, was Mercury in retrograde?

But he found the truth when a lie was what was demanded. When the judges asked him pointedly he was a’ trembling that day.

Chorus:

Did Galileo pray?

And the song wraps with:

Don’t shoot the messenger, when the postman brings you truth today.

I think of this song often for its ironical question of a scientist accused of heresy because his scientifically proven research refuted the positions of those in power at the time. Lately, I’ve thought of this song daily as I read headlines about the current Trump Environmental Protection Agency purging scientists and going after those whose careers have focused on climate science and its proven research.

The EPA is apparently now being stacked with climate-change skeptics and just this month EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced, to a lobbying group of coal industry executives no less, that he was convening a “red team-blue team” exercise to challenge mainstream climate science and the enormous consensus that exists across the globe.

So the agency charged with protecting our country’s environment and public health is now pushing its own inquisition and bragging about it to the most polluting industry known to man.

And sadly while efforts to undermine scientific consensus, or at least to delay the response to the dangers of a changing climate, for some rehashed debate about whose fault it is, science just marches on. Proven scientific theories contain facts, which are observations that have been repeatedly confirmed and are, for all practical purposes, accepted as true. And simply put, science doesn’t care if you believe it or not.

But to deny it only risks the lives of those people who politicians have sworn an oath to protect. Guthrie’s famed guitar, which strummed his populist, pro-people messages, had an inscription that read: “This machine kills fascists.” Today it might state that science outlives them too.

So please always remember, this Land is your Land, this Land is my Land … and This Land was made for you and me. We should all protect it as the only land we have, no matter how those in power choose to attack it for political gain.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: A gathering green trend for Oklahoma

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on July 3, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

A gathering green trend for Oklahoma

For decades Oklahoma’s largest cities have focused more on infrastructure issues like roads, bridges and jails, at the expense of parks, sidewalks and trails. Nevertheless, the latter investments are becoming new again and Oklahoma’s urban dwellers and visitors will soon see and feel the effects of quality-of-life improvements for healthier outdoor living.

In Tulsa, the generous George Kaiser Family Foundation is leading the effort to revitalize and reshape the River Parks areas along the Arkansas River by connecting three adjacent parcels into the existing park system for a world-class experience. A Gathering Place for Tulsa will transform nearly 100 acres of Tulsa’s waterfront into a blend of activities, nature, gathering and community in the great outdoors and within several anchor destinations like a lodge, a museum, an adventure playground, a mist mountain, gardens, sport courts and a large lawn for concerts and relaxation. Truly something for everyone to enjoy, thanks to the generosity of corporate and philanthropic Tulsans.

Phase one’s 66 acres is expected to open in late 2017 and with an estimated 1 million visitors a year will prove the importance of these types of investments to the social, cultural, economic and environmental vibrancy of a community.

On Thursday, Mayor Mick Cornett and Oklahoma City leaders broke ground on Scissortail Park, the newly named 68-acre park expected to revitalize a once-blighted residential and commercial area south of the downtown’s business core. The 37-acre upper park is underway to be opened in early 2019, including a lake, boathouse, great lawn, stage, gardens and playgrounds. The lower park, just south of Skydance Bridge and sculpture along Interstate 40, will come later and includes some environmental improvements and a transformation inviting outdoor activity and healthy, daily living for citizens and visitors. This MAPS 3-funded park will be joined by a new convention center, high-rise hotel and a mix of retail, residential and commercial uses, and will remake the feel and function of downtown Oklahoma City for generations to come.

Roadways will always be important investments and so too is the health and happiness of those citizens who would commute upon them. Soon these green living investments will pivot Oklahoma’s two largest cities toward a tomorrow where more people can actually get out of their cars near the urban core, walk from their offices, relax a little and breathe some clean outdoor air on a daily basis. This is a trend I hope continues for all Oklahomans.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Yellowstone grizzlies scratched from endangered list

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on June 26, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Yellowstone grizzlies scratched from endangered list

How many Yellowstone grizzly bears is enough? Well, it might appear that 700 is the number, based upon the Interior Department’s announcement this past week to remove the animal from the endangered species protection. Seven hundred is today’s estimated population, having rebounded from fewer than 150 at its low point. For 42 years, the Endangered Species Act has provided protection for these animals to repopulate the remote areas in and around Yellowstone Park, mostly concentrated in parts of Montana, Idaho, Washington and Wyoming. Once having ranged from Alaska to Mexico and as far east as the Hudson Bay, the grizzly bear has a much smaller range today and that is especially true for the Yellowstone grizzly.

The Endangered Species Act of 1973, signed by President Nixon, is an environmental law passed to protect imperiled species from extinction and the ecosystems upon which those species depend. The act was America’s effort to carry out the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. With its primary goal to prevent the extinction of imperiled plants and animals, the act’s second goal is to recover and maintain those populations by removing or lessening threats to their survival.

This act does allow for “delisting” or “downlisting” a species, based upon several factors. To delist, the threats must have been eliminated or controlled, population size and growth of the species are considered and the stability of the habitat is determined. To downlist, similar analysis occurs and concludes that some of the threats have been controlled and the population has met recovery objectives, allowing the species protection level to go from “endangered” to “threatened.”

The Endangered Species Act, written by scientists and lawyers working together, has been affirmed by courts over the course of its existence. This solid legal standing has allowed the law to be effective and successful in its missions, although many believe it could be stronger.

Species with increased population size since being placed on the endangered list include: American bald eagle (increased from 417 in 1963 to over 11,000 pairs in 2007 when it was delisted); whooping crane (increased from 54 to over 450 from 1967 to 2005); gray wolf (population increases confirmed although accurate numbers are hard to estimate); and red wolf (increased from 17 in 1980 to over 250 in the last decade).

Nonetheless, the act of “delisting” a species is controversial and is rare. Over the history of the act, while most delisting has occurred because of recovery of the species, about 20 percent of the delisting has occurred because of actual extinction.

And as it relates to today’s Yellowstone grizzly bears, their fate may now fall to the wildlife management practices of the respective states they call home. However, the federal authorities will still get to monitor the state management practices for five years and if the population falls below 600 in that time, special actions will trigger to reduce hunting and restrict other activities attributable to the bears’ deaths.

It is my hope that if you are lucky enough to be in the backcountry around Yellowstone and encounter a Yellowstone grizzly bear, that the only thing you will shoot is your camera. Whether “listed” or not, some American treasures deserve to remain living trophies for all generations to enjoy.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Global decline of coal

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on June 19, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Global decline of coal

The global consumption numbers are in for 2016 and coal production and consumption hit a 35-year low in the United States and had an even deeper slide around the world.

After peaking in the U.S. in 2007, consumption of this traditional fossil fuel has slid by nearly one-third since. And the decline seems to be picking up speed. The first quarter of 2016 saw the lowest quarterly production since 1981, with the steepest quarter-over-quarter drop in nearly 30 years.

Many of America’s utilities have been moving away from coal in power generation. In 2008, about one-half of our electricity was coal-powered. Today’s its about 30 percent due in large part to cheaper, abundant, clean natural gas and the greater deployment of cheap and clean renewable energy sources.

The U.S. Department of Energy recently estimated an annual coal export decline of 12 percent in 2017, as the decline now appears global as well. Worldwide consumption dropped for the second consecutive year, by 1.6 percent last year, to its 2004 levels, as electricity remained flat and coal continued to be displaced by cleaner fuels. Even China, the largest coal consumer in the world, finished 2016 with a drop in its coal use for the third year in row. And since China has the distinction of being the world’s largest polluter today, compared with our country as the largest polluter over history, China is aggressively moving away from coal to other technologies like wind and solar.

And America is helping to lead that trend too. Just this past week Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance Outlook estimated that solar technologies will rival the cost of new coal plants in America and Germany by 2021. It also estimated that solar will soon be cost-competitive in quick-growing markets like India and China. This scenario is called “China’s tipping point” and suggests that once that happens, coal’s days will only further dwindle. And the reality is that once China has forever lessened its coal appetite, the demand curve for coal will likely never recover here or abroad.

Let’s hope we too have migrated toward cleaner energy options that are abundant in Oklahoma and America like natural gas, wind and soon solar.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: What happens in Vegas…

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on June 12, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

What happens in Vegas…

It’s been said that “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” yet Las Vegas and Nevada are making news that is worth talking about for Oklahoma and elsewhere.

In this new era of state-led environmental leadership, one state is getting its renewable energy policies back on track – Nevada. Already a longtime environmental leader, Nevada was in the top 20 when Forbes published its list of the greenest states back in 2007. In 2016, the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas became the largest rooftop solar installation in the U.S.

This session, Nevada lawmakers voted-in several solar-friendly measures: one that will bring back net-metering at 95 percent of retail rate (net-metering is a mechanism whereby distributed generation customers are paid for the excess power their systems place back on to the grid), and another bill that directs the state’s public utility to plan for expansion of electric vehicles and infrastructure, begin accounting for the costs of carbon emissions, and to look into energy storage opportunities.

Nevada made big green news last year when MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts, two of the largest customers of the state’s public utility – the Berkshire Hathaway-owned NV Energy – were permitted to pay exit fees of more than $127 million to cease obtaining power from the public utility in order to pursue sourcing power on their own from renewable energies. This opportunity to source power from a third party was the result of a 2001 law that promoted new power generation in the state at that time.

News of the approved exit fees was even more noteworthy since one of the first applications for autonomy from the public utility came from Nevada technology company Switch, but was denied. That company eventually forged a deal whereby NV Energy would provide the 100 percent renewable energy Switch sought to attain.

It is exciting to see successful free-market environmentalism. The bold moves of these giant companies are illustrative of what I discussed last week, which is to say states and businesses, and not the federal government, have the power, influence, and desire to design and construct our energy and environmental landscape. And that is important as much of “corporate America” is moving toward self-styled energy options to control their operating costs and improve their brand’s environmental reputation.

Providing some semblance of hope for Oklahoma after a legislative session that was not kind to our state’s renewable energy blessings is that Nevada’s bright future comes after a recent dark past. In late 2015, despite a recent report that indicated solar consumers give more to the grid than they cost, the Nevada Public Utility Commission voted unanimously to remove the state’s net metering policy, leaving customers who had invested in solar infrastructure no longer being paid for energy they placed onto the grid.

Oklahoma is familiar with the proverbial pulling-the-rug-out laws. The distributed generation surcharge bill – Senate Bill 1456 – was passed in 2014 and created a lot of market uncertainty for Oklahomans and the rooftop solar industry. Since its passage, Oklahoma’s regulated utilities have been unsuccessful in their efforts to add a new surcharge as the Oklahoma Corporation Commission has rightly analyzed the evidence and determined that rooftop solar is in fact not being subsidized by non-rooftop customers. In fact, the evidence revealed the opposite. Now it’s time for the Oklahoma Legislature to follow the lead of states like Nevada and allow Oklahomans the legal right to earn the true value of the energy they create for the greater grid and the greater good.

Good news for Nevadans: Tesla and solar installer Sunrun indicate these new policies will allow them to resume operations in the state after having recently departed due to industry-threatening policies. Also, you might be interested to know that the iconic Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada sign is itself actually powered by solar energy. Now that is welcome news.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Syria, Nicaragua and Trump’s America

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on June 5, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Syria, Nicaragua and Trump’s America

You have probably heard by now that Donald Trump has announced his intentions to withdraw the United States of America from the Paris climate accord, a non-binding agreement dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation and financing starting in 2020.

This accord was negotiated within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and as of June has been signed by 195 countries and already ratified by 148. Yes, that is most, as in almost all, of the countries of planet Earth.

Who isn’t now a party to this historic global effort to safeguard our planet? Syria (current war-torn catastrophe), Nicaragua (who believed the accord “didn’t go far enough”) and Trump’s America (which he stated was disadvantaged in job areas such as coal mining).

However, as many American business CEOs and world leaders denounce Trump’s announcement, an even more meaningful reaction is taking hold: The “other America” of state and local governments, where the great majority of Americans live, is seemingly pushing forward to honor the Paris accord and its pollution reductions.

In fact, the U.S. Climate Alliance was formed by the states of California, New York and Washington to uphold the Paris climate agreement, on the same day Trump announced his intentions for the federal government. Other states and cities will surely follow and in their course undermine Trump’s efforts to speak for all of us.

And why does this matter? Mostly because the world is now a global economy and the power of people and populations drive commerce more so than federal U.S. policy. Put another way, what California does often dictates what businesses and manufacturers do for all of America and beyond.

California, currently the sixth-largest economy in the world, has been a leader for decades in numerous American energy and environmental policies. When then-President-elect Trump began filling his Cabinet with nominees who rejected the idea that human activity effects climate change, California Gov. Jerry Brown cautioned that the state would take action if necessary to safeguard its environmental policies.

California’s large economic prowess allows it to command higher standards in many arenas, (like vehicle fuel and emission standards and natural gas storage and safety rules) since business and industry will create their products to adhere to California standards for its large market.

California is a beacon of hope for those in the climate-change-is-real category (and for those who want to see America continue to lead the world in innovation and environmental protection).

And even though these first three large states are run by Democrats, let us not forget that some formidable American environmental accomplishments came at the hands of Republicans. President Nixon signed into law the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, created the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Everyone talks about red states and blue states,” said Hal Harvey, CEO of Energy Innovation, a San Francisco-based policy research group. “We really have to start talking about green states and brown states. There are about a dozen states – many of them in Republican control – with very strong renewable portfolio standards and very strong utility energy efficiency programs, and utilities are going to be the prime movers in building the electric vehicle charging infrastructure.”

It is more likely than not, America’s green states will stay committed to the voluntary Paris accord and its pollution reductions because state rights and a global economy remain supreme, while Trump’s America becomes a patchwork of brown states aligned with a few outlier nations like Syria and Nicaragua. Stay tuned.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: The next generation utility here in Oklahoma

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on May 22, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

The next generation utility here in Oklahoma

If you have ever played the board game Monopoly, you know that utility spaces are supposed to be safer landing places than say Boardwalk, or even a developed Marvin Gardens. As a kid, I didn’t know what a monopoly was, but I understood the risk and reward of landing on spaces in the make-believe economy that hopefully cost your opponents and spared oneself. And if you were lucky enough to own the Water Works or the Electric Company, you knew they were good investments that would pay for themselves, but that they didn’t offer the same kind of explosive growth possible of other properties.

The same is true today for most of America’s utilities, as they are a steady-as-she-goes investment, usually promising a decent return but a return proportional to the risk. But today’s utilities no longer have the luxury of complacency in an ever-changing world. In Monopoly, each of the two utilities cost $150 each and the rent was 4 times the dice roll if one utility is owned, or 10 times the dice value if both are owned.

Similarly, many of America’s utilities have been acquiring each other and creating shareholder value through size and footprint, but some observers worry these larger monolithic utilities may becoming too big to adjust as needed when the world of energy and electricity are changing so quickly. Some corporate cultures are agile and can be on the front end of an evolving industry and some cannot.

Here in Oklahoma, some of the most agile utilities are proving to be our electric cooperatives, whose nimbleness, local service focus and innovative drive are creating great business incubators for movement into the energy future. I recently learned of one such great example, serving central Oklahoma and based in Stillwater in Payne County. Central Rural Electric Cooperative provides electric distribution cooperative service to more than 20,000 meters through more than 4,000 miles of electrical line in seven central Oklahoma counties. They refer to themselves as “the next generation utility” and describe their mission as:

Central Rural Electric Cooperative is filled with energy-industry game changers, collaborators, risk takers, mountain movers, dream weavers and history makers. We are not afraid to bring ideas to life and inspire those around us….We understand it is our responsibility to embrace our energy future and empower our members to change the world by sacrificing self-interests to achieve the best results.

And they are walking the walk, which is important because they are also serving an area of Oklahoma with significant oil and gas activity ramping up and expecting reliable service. Central has instituted new demand monitoring technologies that provide modern operations in real-time to reduce costs and increase reliability for the local oil and gas activities.

Central has also constructed a new business park and micro-community called Innovation Pointe, which shares new technologies to improve system operations. They’ve even deployed self-healing grid technologies to increase reliability and decrease outages to keep their customers safe.

Central has added new renewable energy in the form of Ten K Solar panels and battery storage technologies (which help to mitigate the intermittency of solar energy) to power the Innovation Pointe campus. The solar power plant, with the help of the Tesla Powerpack battery products, exports extra renewable energy to the whole grid and the system is managed from inside the new building, which achieved LEED Gold status from the U.S. Green Building Council.

This forward-thinking and more importantly forward-moving utility is proof that some monopoly spaces are worth landing on, because their embrace of the future is a sure win for every customer.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Supply and demand for the Oklahoma energy future

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on May 15, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Supply and demand for the Oklahoma energy future

We Oklahomans are proud producers of products our country and the world needs. We help supply many of the demands of others in the form of our exported wheat, oil, natural gas and clean energy.

More and more, corporate America is showing increased demand for renewable energy and our state’s abundant supply should be attractive for investment and growth for years to come. That is, so long as our state policies do not hurt our potential.

Imagine if we were competing against Kansas for wheat customers around the globe (as we are by the way) and Oklahoma opted to end all of its wheat incentives, while Kansas did not. Kansas would have a market advantage as demand for cheaper supply proves out for Kansas’ cheaper wheat than Oklahoma’s.

The most fundamental concept in economics, and the foundation of any market-based economy, suggests that demand and supply will allocate resources in the most efficient way possible, usually dictated by price. In the wheat example above, Oklahoma losing a competitive advantage to Kansas may leave us with the proverbial chaff, that husky part surrounding the wheat, while the grain remains in Kansas’ economy.

Such may be the case with Oklahoma’s renewable energy future, now that state leaders have acted to eliminate the last incentive for wind energy, while neighboring Kansas and Texas, with similarly strong wind resources, have not. In fact, both Kansas and Texas offer a number of remaining incentives, even though Kansas is facing a similar budget dilemma as Oklahoma.

What is worse, some anti-wind special interests are now even pushing for a new tax on wind energy, which would further harm Oklahoma’s energy potential, worsen our “competitiveness for investment” and would raise every Oklahoman’s monthly utility bill. All the while, America’s corporate leaders are looking for more renewable energy now more than ever. Will they look to Oklahoma and bring their dollars here, or will they follow the law of economics and go where the supply is cheaper?

Here is the coming market. More American companies than ever are directly buying or building their own renewable energy projects. From Facebook and Apple to General Motors and Ford, America’s largest corporations are building their brands around the clean energy future. While some may have philosophical reasons for clean green energy, most companies are still profit-focused with their energy choices and they see the green of renewable power as the cost savings from today’s cheapest form of power. That cheapness will drive their business investment and decisions to other states if Oklahoma allows other anti-wind policies to destroy our cost-competitiveness and future energy potential. That would mean less direct funding to schools that wind pays through property taxes. That would mean less direct payments to Oklahoma farmers and ranchers for leasing their land. And it would mean less jobs in a steady energy industry free of the boom and bust cycles that has whip-sawed our history.

So, my fellow Oklahomans, please watch closely the next two weeks as our Legislature makes choices for or against our future energy potential. These two weeks may very well lay the reality for Oklahoma’s economy and energy vitality for many years to come.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Oil flash crash?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on May 8, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Oil flash crash?

We just had what some energy analysts called a flash crash in oil prices these past few days.

For those of us Oklahomans who are hoping for a strong, robust recovery for the oil and natural gas industries, this past week may have renewed some doubts. And for those Oklahoma legislators who are working on a new budget and praying their revenue estimates are met with a big recovery, they might need to plan for a less certain economic picture in the months ahead.

Friday saw a new five-month low for oil prices, after a 4-percent drop on Thursday and a larger than 3-percent additional drop overnight for U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures. Brent crude prices were similarly down on the global market on worries that rising U.S. output and Libyan crude returning to the market would extend the oversupply picture that has dominated the industry for the last year plus.

In addition, these lows were back to those levels that occurred prior to OPEC’s Nov. 30 announcement to curtail production levels for six months among its members by 1.2 million barrels per day and other major producers like Russia by another 600,000 barrels a day. On May 25, they will meet again to discuss renewing this agreement for another six months.

Other than the idea that a new agreement in Libya may calm that country’s production troubles and return as much as 1.5 million barrels a day later in 2017, the market impact seems to be borne by American production. On Wednesday, our government data showed that our inventories did not drop as much as expected and that American crude production continued to increase, creating a double-whammy to the supply picture. Similar supply news was reported by the Energy Information Administration for natural gas futures, which extended skeptics’ views on its cost recovery.

So what does it all mean? Well, your guess is as good as mine, but we can begin to see the signs that American producers may hold the key to their own industry’s fate more than ever in the last 40 years. Our unprecedented production success over the last decade is how we ended up in this current commodity recession gripping our industries and our state. Moreover, even as OPEC, which used to own the market swings by its own policies and production, works to stabilize the market with supply cuts, similar restraint may not exist here at home.

Thankfully, U.S. economic data is looking more positive than negative, although inertia seems to exist in several areas, and we might be able to power our own economic growth. Perhaps the test for us going forward is whether we can establish long-term stability in supply and demand to strengthen this weakened industry at home or whether we will rush to produce all that we can only to see the low commodity prices negate any economic upswing desperately needed by our producers and the state of Oklahoma’s budget.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Department of Defense and its drive toward renewable energies continues

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on May 1, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Department of Defense and its drive toward renewable energies continues

America’s largest consumer of electricity is actually the Department of Defense with thousands of facilities and millions of employees.

It’s also the largest employer in the world with over 1.3 million active duty servicemen and women, more than 800,000 members of the National Guard and reservists and more than 750,000 civilians supporting their vital missions here and abroad. And more often than not, their preferred choice of energy is coming from renewable resources.

Now this isn’t something driven by a political or environmental agenda or even a president, it is much more important than that; it’s about enhancing national security pure and simple.

While it’s also been a big economic savings to the military, their statements on the subject remain firmed focused on mission readiness and security. And to that end, newly created teams within the Air Force and other branches are even going after contracts for on-site distributed generation and smart micro-grids, so the military installation can control its own energy destiny in the event a cyberattack takes down the nation’s electric grid.

In addition, this past week saw a new milestone in DOD’s ongoing march toward its reliance upon clean energy, as a first-of-its-kind hybrid complex of wind and solar began commercial operations at U.S. Garrison Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. This, the nation’s largest single renewable energy project, began officially generating its renewable power on April 27, providing more than 50 percent of the annual electric load at this base.

Apex Clean Energy, a Charlottesville, Virginia, clean energy company, which has years of experiencing developing projects in Oklahoma and throughout our region, has partnered with Northleaf Capital Partners to develop, build and own the energy complex comprised of the 50.4 megawatt Cotton Plains Wind facility and the 151.2 megawatt Old Settlers Wind facility, both in Floyd County, Texas, with the Phantom Solar project on-site at Fort Hood.

The idea of marrying these two renewable energy resources is a great one for round-the-clock support to our always-ready military. With solar power often strongest during “the peak” and most expensive parts of the day, and wind power which is available at all times and overnight, the 24/7 nature of our military has a good fit. For us citizen taxpayers, who are footing the bill, we can take solace in knowing we will be made safer and save critical tax dollars all at the same time.

These win-wins should spread across Oklahoma’s many bases, where wind, solar and natural gas are in abundance and where our communities, who support the bases, should also enjoy some local benefits from the large energy investments made within their town and county limits in and around these vital bases.

In the words of the United States Army, “This We’ll Defend.”

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Energy cybersecurity

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on April 24, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Energy cybersecurity

This past week was the 22nd anniversary of the Murrah Federal Building bombing on April 19 and as is the solemn custom each year Oklahomans gathered and memorialized those lives lost and those lives changed forever.

In addition, for the third year, the Judge Alfred P. Murrah Center for Homeland Security Law & Policy at the Oklahoma City University School of Law gathered people to study and examine the threats in our world today. As the center says in describing the tragic events of April 19, 1995, “It opened our eyes to the reality that terrorism could strike anywhere, at any time.”

This sad reality has required that we Americans keep our eyes wide open and with the help of experts at the Murrah Center and around the country, vigilance, insight and knowledge are necessary constants today.

At this year’s conference, the issues of cybersecurity in banking, gaming and energy, with the helpful sponsorship from the law firm of Crowe & Dunlevy, brought into focus for a reality check of the threats around us. And in the event you aren’t aware of how often attacks are actually occurring here and abroad, be sure to check out Norse Corp.’s real-time visibility into global cyberattacks website and you too might be shocked at the frequency: map.norsecorp.com/#/.

Like a modern-day version of Missile Command, this site shows and live tracks the attack origins, the attack types, attack targets and countries involved in real time. And it is very freaky, because cyber risks and attacks do not sleep, they do not take weekends off and they certainly don’t quit.

In the energy sector, much is being done to safeguard every step, from production to midstream delivery, to customer consumption and engagement, as every link is a vulnerability. At last week’s seminar, experts from Devon Energy, Continental Resources and Oklahoma Gas & Electric described their own real-world efforts and safeguards in what appears to be a constant evolution of learning, reacting and working to stay safe and a step ahead of these risks.

The U.S. Department of Energy is the pre-eminent national guide for cybersecurity for critical energy infrastructure and energy delivery systems. As DOE says: “…the nation’s security, economic prosperity, and the well-being of our citizens depend on reliable energy infrastructure.” And they work to accomplish these needs through three key areas:

• Strengthening energy sector cybersecurity preparedness.

• Coordinating cyber incident response and recovery.

• Accelerating research, development and demonstration of game-changing and resilient energy delivery systems.

Oklahoma is certainly an energy state, with blessings above and below our red dirt. Our production and delivery of these resources now include once-unimaginable threats of attack from sophisticated computer hackers and attacks from nation-states and rogue actors looking to create havoc in our economy and across the world. Our energy companies are helping to keep our energy systems safe and they need our vigilance too.

So the next time you get a strange email offering you riches from a never-known dead relative in a foreign country, please do not click on the link or forward it to others to check it out, as it may just be the attack that takes out your town’s electricity or the oil and gas well nearby.

As my mother used to say, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” In today’s world of cyber risks, the new mantra may need to be “If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a malicious malware virus launched from an anonymous attacker to bring down your household or country.”

But then again, it could just be “a guy sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds,” as a candidate for president once scoffed. Either way, it’s past time to take it serious, especially for the energy sector in America.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Earth Day in action

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on April 17, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Earth Day in action

April is a busy time with significant holidays like Passover and Easter.

It’s also a time to celebrate the reawakening of the natural world around us as the spring equinox springs fauna and flora to life around us. And with Earth Day, April 22, approaching, it’s a great time to jump up, get out and put our lives in action for the world around us.

The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, activated 20 million Americans from all walks of life and is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement, although a growing consciousness had been building in America for decades. Soon the passage of landmark acts, such as the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act brought national prominence to these efforts. By the 1990s, Earth Day had spread across the Earth, activating more than 200 million people in over 140 countries and creating a true global awareness of the world we share in common.

So as we approach the 47th birthday of Earth Day in America, we can take great comfort in the tremendous progress that has actually been achieved here and abroad over these years and yet we have serious concerns that continue to mount and are causing grave, yes, grave consequences.

• Forests: Our planet is currently losing 56 acres of forests every minute, amounting to over 15 billion trees every year. These fading forests are necessary to combat climate change, de-carbonize our atmosphere, sustain important species and provide shelter and security to people across the globe. Former forested areas are now prone to massive erosion and displacement of cultures and animals worldwide.

• Species: Earth’s species are now going extinct faster than ever before and we have entered what credentialed scientists have described as a “sixth mass extinction brought on by global human activity.”

Whether you are motivated by faith, as many faithful people believe we have a calling to honor the world provided by the Creator, or whether you are motivated by a humanistic call to save lives from climate harm and disease brought on my droughts and famine, there are a few easy and obvious actions steps you can take to make a difference:

• Plant a tree or donate to plant a tree.

There are a number of national and world charities that do great work to reforest our planet and your modest donation can go a long way. Likewise, visit a local nursery and plant a new tree in your own yard, with your family’s help, and create a daily reminder of the tree of life out your own front door.

• Reduce your footprint.

There are many online tools to measure your ecological footprint to learn how to reduce your footprint on the planet. Here is a great link to get started: www.earthday.org/reduce-footprint-take-ecological-footprint-quiz.

• Stop using disposable plastic.

Make the decision today and simply stop. Carry your own bag into stores, insist on recycled paper bags or simply carry items in your arms the old-fashioned way, but however you stop using plastic, just stop. They are filling up landfills, polluting oceans and entangling and killing animals everywhere.

• Believe in science and let your voice be known.

There are activities all around this country, including a March for Science on the National Mall on Earth Day to fight efforts to silence science and instead create community engagements and knowledge sharing. As my partner likes to say: “science doesn’t care if you believe it or not, it just is science.”

This Earth Day is a great time to engage with yourself, your children, your family, your church, community and neighbors to do deliberate acts of good to help save Mother Earth. She really needs our help.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Leading or following China on climate?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on April 10, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Leading or following China on climate?

Over the years, much has been made in American politics about whether America should do more to lead the world on solutions for combating climate change.

Now I am not talking about the “climate deniers” who are against the enormous consensus of actual scientists; those political scientists who try to score political points alleging there isn’t consensus. I am talking about that second group of politicians and prognosticators who say: “Why should we do something when China isn’t?”

But first, more about those actual scientists. According to NASA, yes that NASA, and its Global Climate Change website, climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus, “Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.”

The following is a partial list of these organizations:

• American Scientific Associations including American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Chemical Society; American Meteorological Society and the Geological Society of America.

• The United States National Academy of Sciences.

• The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

• 200+ worldwide scientific organizations that hold the position that climate change has been caused by human action.

So, once you accept that scientific evidence is or may be believable, you get to the “Why should we” crowd. It is this crowd I was wondering about as America’s president met with China’s president in Florida. That is a clear departure from past administrations pushing on China, and their enormous emerging economy, to move in a more committed path towards limiting human effects on climate and global warming.

Have we agreed to follow? Is it possible that America’s new directions on energy, coal, pollution and climate change will be eclipsed by a China that is actually doing more on climate action? Let us take a look.

At the end of 2016, China released its 13th Five Year Plan for Economic and Social Development, a guidebook that has become how the Communist Party maps out China’s direction. The plan has three sub-plans focused on controlling greenhouse gas emissions, environmental protection and development of the power sector.

Taken together, these renewed pathways build upon the previous steps and measures underway that have actually reduced their coal consumption three years in a row, helping reduce China’s carbon dioxide emissions by about 0.7 percent last year.

What’s more, the three sub-plans lay out a comprehensive set of policies to benchmark China’s goals for 2020, which will allow them to actually exceed their 2030 goals in the Paris Agreement. They have capped coal usage, they have pushed even tougher caps in areas of poorer air quality and they have redoubled efforts to develop low-carbon technologies and policies.

America seems to be moving in the opposite direction, when we could and should in fact lead the charge to solve one of the greatest, if not the greatest challenge we face in our lifetimes. Our country’s outstanding DNA and drive has made us a leader in innovation, economy and moral fortitude to move others to solve global challenges. We should not reverse course now and lose the chance to lead this enormous opportunity for our lives and our economy.

What’s more, for those who feel we should not lead because others may not follow, I would ask: When does America ask for a show of hands to determine if it does the right thing? We should continue to lead and we should realize other excuses may be vanishing as other countries do more. China included.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Oklahoma, Caveat Emptor?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on April 3, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Oklahoma, Caveat Emptor?

As travelers enter into Oklahoma on one of 11 major highways from other states, they are greeted by a beautiful red granite monument featuring the Oklahoma state seal and the word Oklahoma.

However, to be fair, and based upon recurring actions from our state leaders, truth in advertising may require we amend the signs to read “Oklahoma, Caveat Emptor.”

“Caveat emptor” is a Latin phrase meaning “let the buyer beware.” Similar to the phrase “sold as is,” this phrase suggests that the buyer assumes the risk that a product may fail to meet expectations or be defective. The phrase is actually shortened from a longer legal concept, which is: Caveat emptor, quia ignorare non debuit quod jus alienum emit, meaning “Let the purchaser beware, for he out not be ignorant of the nature of the property which he is buying from another party.”

Now we Oklahomans surely pride ourselves on being good people who will look you in the eye and bind ourselves through our word and a handshake. Moreover, we should not need Latin phrases to prove our trustworthiness, or more accurately excuse our lack thereof. But times they are changing if the actions around our floundering state budget continue to erode the confidence of our own citizens and those precious investment dollars we invite in to help grow our state. Simply put, our erratic debtor’s behavior is making us a risky place to do business, and whether our welcome signs declare it or not, our legislative actions are spreading the word beyond our borders.

Last year, numerous bills were introduced targeting existing tax credits and other incentives, causing investors and companies in energy and aerospace to purportedly remove Oklahoma as a place to grow, expand or invest. Then near the end of the session, and without much warning, quick action immediately eliminated a tax subsidy for oil and gas wells that had become unprofitable due to the massive and sudden downturn in energy prices. Yes, an argument can be made that the budget hole necessitated drastic action, but to that operator that kept employing Oklahomans it probably felt like being kicked while you were already down.

Now this year, similar sudden action has been taken by both the House and the Senate to rip an existing tax incentive away from projects that are actually under construction in Oklahoma with the wind energy industry. Oklahoma invited billions of dollars in and now claims we cannot keep our word even though changing our word has zero effect on this coming year’s budget.

Standard & Poor’s global ratings announced in March it has lowered our bond rating a notch stating: “The downgrade reflects our view that persistently weak revenue collections – leading to a declared revenues failure for the remainder of the fiscal year (2017) – have further compounded the state’s challenge to achieve structural balance in fiscal 2018.”

These are desperate times and as is said, desperate times call for desperate measures. Our failed funding of public education is a crisis, which reverberates through our lives and economy in multiple ways beyond dropout rates and low test scores. It means higher incarceration rates and socialized expenses. It means greater poverty rates, hunger and divorce. It is a crisis and must be solved. We need steady, structural change to create revenue for our state’s needs.

However, to be erratic toward investment dollars, which we desperately need to grow our state towards more stable times, is a risk that can forever impair our state’s fullest potential. If we have become a credit risk, lenders will deploy their capital in more reliable states and the downward spiral continues here through less financing, fewer company expansions, and higher costs of debt, fewer energy projects and fewer jobs.

While desperate times may in fact exist, we Oklahomans should not ever trade in our good name. Not for an annual budget hole, not for political pressure, not for anything.

Others are watching our words and actions and they may rewrite our welcome sign for us.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: OKC in top 10 U.S. cities for solar potential

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on March 27, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

OKC in top 10 U.S. cities for solar potential

Google’s “Project Sunroof” program just expanded into every state in America to ascertain which areas are most suitable for solar power and not surprisingly sunny Oklahoma, and specifically sunny Oklahoma City, came out in the top 10 cities across this great country. While Houston was ranked No. 1, Oklahoma City achieved the eighth-best spot, besting Dallas and Albuquerque to round out the top 10.

Overall, the expanded analysis concluded that 80 percent of all American rooftops assessed are suitable and can technically benefit from the installation of solar panels for energy generation. That is an astounding reality and speaks to the coming enormity of solar energy for our country’s future, especially as technology is improving fast and prices are dropping precipitously.

Curious about your own home’s potential? Please check out the project website and simply put in your ZIP code at: www.google.com/get/sunroof#p=0.

My own home was analyzed and shows the potential for at least $3,000 in estimated savings over 20 years due to:

• 1,695 hours of usable sunlight per year, based on day-to-day analysis of weather patterns.

• 352 square feet available for solar panels, based on 3-D modeling of my roof and nearby trees.

• Recommended solar installation size of a 4.75-kilowatt system that could provide more than 21 percent of my electricity consumption (in reality I would probably size it even larger to live freer from dirtier electricity).

All of this great analysis is free and provided using Google Earth and Google Maps technology to build specific 3-D models by assessing weather, trees and other factors that affect your roof’s potential to the sun’s exposure. It was fascinating to see it actually illustrate my own home’s roofs and the analysis specifics, based upon my electricity consumption.

And while it doesn’t yet speak to the local policy issues impacting these equations, such as the fact Oklahoma utilities aren’t yet required to pay homeowners “fair value” price for the energy that your rooftop system may “export” back to the grid for use by others, it does illuminate many of the basics that can get your analysis started. The website even lists solar providers in your area so you can take the next step to have industry experts visit your home and help calculate your system options, payback timelines and any local, state or federal incentives that might help.

In addition, as an aside, please know that the future is looking bright for Oklahomans to adopt more solar energy, as just last week the Oklahoma Corporation Commission voted to block a utility’s request to raise charges on rooftop solar customers. The case centered on the reality that when you study the economics, neighbors with rooftop solar energy are actually providing greater benefit to their neighbors through exported energy than those customers themselves cost the system to tie into the grid. That helps Oklahoma move from its current ranking of 48th in solar adoption toward the enormous potential we have as Oklahoma City ranked eighth suggests.

What are you waiting for? Chances are really good the sun will come up again tomorrow.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Pushing American ingenuity forward

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on March 20, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Pushing American ingenuity forward

Two cars leave Detroit at the exact same time, traveling 60 miles per hour, headed to drive through every state in the continental United States over the coming years.

Car A begins and maintains a steady 34-miles-per-gallon fuel efficiency during every year of its journey, while emitting 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over eight years. Car B begins year 2017 with 34-miles-per-gallon fuel efficiency and adjusts upward each year to a level of 54 miles per gallon by 2025, while emitting only 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide during the same eight-year period.

Now unlike those typical rate-time-distance math questions, this presents a more direct question for the American consumer: Which car would you want to own?

For me, and my family’s budget, the answer is Car B.

Moreover, perhaps the bigger question, the great unknown with the scenario above that is actually beginning to play out in national politics today, is: Which car will be available for you from an American manufacturer?

That answer seems more likely to be Car A, if “Detroit” gets its way.

The Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE standards are American regulations, first passed by Congress in 1975 in reaction to the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo. These regulations exist to improve the average fuel economy of cars and “light trucks,” including trucks, vans and SUVs, produced for sale in America. The calculations and mathematical formulas for setting the CAFE standards have evolved over time and since 2012, the standards are determined through an inverse-linear formula reflecting the footprint of various vehicles by fleet.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulates CAFE standards and the Environmental Protection Agency measures vehicle fuel efficiency. Congress specifies that CAFE standards must be set at the “maximum feasible level” given consideration for: technological feasibility; economic practicality; effect of other standards on fuel economy; and need of the nation to conserve energy.

I wish that Congress would actually include a fifth consideration for the “need for American consumers to save money” or at least “need for American ingenuity to be pushed forward.”

While it’s probably true that most American consumer behavior is driven by pure economics, it has also been true that Americans will buy big gas guzzlers unless and until they can’t afford the largesse of that vehicle’s gas consumption. And the same is true, that many Americans will search out cars in the market that meet their budget-conscious needs too, as has been evident in the past decades as Japanese imports with higher fuel economy, better safety records and less maintenance costs began a strong foothold into the American market. Meanwhile, most American car manufacturers fought innovation and regulation, including fighting early versions of electric cars. I’m old enough to remember that was the first time that Detroit needed a taxpayer bailout.

So please pay close attention to the “Detroit 3” asking the president to reopen the new 2016 “Midterm CAFE Standards” and whether their reasons are to benefit the consumer or themselves. And although the 2025 model year target of 54.5 miles per gallon may seem tough, there is no doubt that the increasing fuel efficiency standards are a direct benefit to your families’ bottom line, to our collective energy and national security and to the arc of American ingenuity.

Lets’ not take our foot off the accelerator now.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Storm clouds and a silver lining?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on March 13, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Storm clouds and a silver lining?

As Oklahoma’s oil and gas industry looks ahead, cautiously optimistic into 2017 and beyond, it seems there are reasons to be hopeful and still causes for worry. That dual reality has played out already in 2017 and especially within the past week.

As the Oklahoma state budget indicates, the oil and gas patch has been going through a very rough patch for the past few years. And as a country, American oil and gas production has remained steady, albeit more productive than the market can bear. Hence the oversupply and low-price reality exacerbating the industry these past few years.

Where have we been since the high of $110 per barrel of oil in 2014? Well it’s been a rocky road for sure. And 2016 can perfectly illustrate that bumpy journey.

At the beginning of 2016, the U.S. benchmark saw a nearly 13-year low with prices per barrel of oil falling below $27. Yes, that’s less than a quarter of the 2014 price high and no wonder many companies got slammed hard, including bankruptcies and reorganizations to survive. Then a rebound began, due in large part to optimism around production control announced by OPEC and its collaborators, as the rebound more than doubled the price of crude. 2016 saw the U.S. benchmark futures achieve the biggest annual gain in seven years, including an 8-percent gain in December alone.

And as the industry rolled into 2017, hope continued to build that the low commodity price storm clouds may be dissipating. Rig activity is building, some companies are announcing expanded capital programs and cautious smiles are beginning to reappear.

Volatility seemed to be leveling out, as oil traded within a $4 range over the past two months, creating the smoothest period for oil prices since 2014. But then a thunderhead popped up quickly and rained some doubt again for the industry, and prices tumbled for oil and for publicly traded companies directly involved.

Last Wednesday and Thursday saw oil futures fall over 7 percent in two days, sliding back under $50 per barrel as worries continue. Storage data revealed near record highs and suggestions that a rush to produce could further flood the market and continue downward pressure on prices. And an industry desperately in need of balance is being reminded that most factors impacting their industry are beyond their control.

What is more likely within the industry’s control, the cost of doing business, may be the silver lining in all of this stormy experience. Here’s what I mean.

Oklahoma producers have become all too familiar with feast and famine over the past decades. And the smartest amongst us seek out cost efficiencies through the drill bit at times such as these. Through deployed innovation and cost savings implemented structurally in the production processes, many Oklahoma producers are learning to create more with less. And as the industry picks up, with labor demands tightening, land lease prices increasing and energy service companies in growing demand, the exploration and production companies that have implemented price discipline in their own internal practices should weather any coming volatility. It is estimated that about one-third of a well’s costs are on the drilling side, with the remaining two-thirds being for the well’s completion costs. Oklahoma’s companies and Oklahoma’s SCOOP, STACK and the NW STACK plays are going to be laboratories for whether innovative producers can not only compete, but succeed in the new normal of external price pressures.

All of Oklahoma needs them to succeed.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Right-wing social engineering?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on February 27, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Right-wing social engineering?

Not long ago American conservatives professed free-market solutions and an economy without job-killing regulations that pick winners and losers, yet those principles seem to be a thing of the past when it comes to clean energy these days.

To be fair, the American economy does not really meet the actual definition of free market, which according to Dictionary.com is “An economic system in which prices and wages are determined by unrestricted competition between businesses, without government regulation or fear of monopolies.”

Also, perhaps because much of America’s electricity sector is highly regulated, either as a monopoly or something very close to it, but whatever the reason, 2017 is seeing an unprecedented level of activity attempting to interfere with energy markets.

All across America conservative lawmakers have been introducing a number of bills and legislative efforts to block, tax, halt, hobble and hurt the economics of and markets for clean energy. Here is just a sampling from a few states in 2017:

Wyoming – Nine legislators (two senators and seven representatives, all Republicans, mostly from coal-producing counties) have introduced a new measure that would forbid Wyoming utilities from acquiring any electricity from wind or solar energy projects by 2019, regardless of the fact that those resources are becoming cheaper than traditional fossil fuel. The bill would levy steep fines on utilities if they continue to provide “non-eligible clean energy” for their electric service.

By the way, Wyoming generates and consumes mostly coal-powered electricity, which accounted for roughly 90 percent of its electricity in 2016.

North Dakota – Republican Sen. Dwight Cook introduced a measure (Senate Bill 2314) to impose a moratorium on wind energy development through 2019 and he used a procedural maneuver called a hog-house amendment that erases an existing bill and rewrites it so that the public can’t comment on the proposal because hearings already have been held on the original measure. And even though this tactic may stink to high heaven, a North Dakota Senate committee approved it this week in a 4-3 vote. North Dakota is a coal state and is home to seven coal plants, where it exports almost 70 percent of its total electricity generation to neighboring states.

Oklahoma – Republican legislators have introduced more than 60 bills about wind energy and the governor’s State of the State budget address included a proposed new tax on wind energy, which would be the highest in the nation at $5 per megawatt-hour of electricity on every customer’s utility bill. Granted, Oklahoma has a severe budget dilemma, but this electricity tax idea noticeably does not include any similar tax provisions for out-of-state coal or in-state natural gas, which are still the largest parts of Oklahoma’s electricity portfolio.

So what is going on? Why have conservative policymakers seemingly abandoned their core economic free-market philosophies to push regulations designed to put the hurt on clean energy?

It’s especially odd when you read the 2016 GOP platform on regulation, which states:

Regulation: The Quiet Tyranny – Over-regulation is the quiet tyranny of the “Nanny State.” It hamstrings American businesses and hobbles economic growth.

A possible answer? Coal energy is on the ropes and its sympathizers know that desperate times may call for desperate measures. Nevertheless, no matter how many conservative nannies pop up across the country to push to save coal, the power of economics, like water, will flow to their logical outcome over time.

And for us Oklahomans, that is actually a good thing, because clean-burning, (overly) abundant (and cheap) domestic natural gas is the greatest, single market effect pushing coal to the ash heap on energy history. It will not be immediate, so please do not celebrate or panic, but it is real and it is here to stay. Free-market or not.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Florida taxes oranges?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on February 13, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Florida taxes oranges?

If you were to read a headline that the state of Florida was looking to add a 25-percent tax to the price of oranges, you might scratch your head and wonder why they would intentionally hurt one of their largest industries. In Florida, agriculture is second only to tourism.

Such was my reaction when Oklahoma state leaders unveiled an idea this past week to tax their way out of a recurring budget shortfall dilemma by proposing a new tax on Oklahoma’s wind energy, thereby raising the cost of every single Oklahoman’s monthly utility bill. Wind energy accounted for roughly 20 percent of the state’s total electricity last year, so you can do the math about an increase to 20 percent of your electricity fuel bill.

The proposed $5 per megawatt-hour of wind power generation amounts to an approximate 25-percent increase to the cost of wind power, which is now being developed and sold in Oklahoma at around $20 per Mwh.

It’s also interesting to note that only one other state in America has a tax on wind production and Wyoming, where coal is king, has a $1-per-megawatt-hour tax, a whole one-fifth of Oklahoma’s proposed new tax rate.

Oklahoma has enormous energy blessings in the form of natural gas, wind and oil. Recently, the U.S. Energy Information Administration updated its state rankings and has Oklahoma third in the country in natural gas production and fifth in crude oil production. Oklahoma is now also ranked third in wind power with 6,645 megawatts of wind capacity as of the end of 2016, just surpassing California and now trailing only Texas (20,321 MWs) and Iowa (6,917 MWs).

It’s true what Oscar Hammerstein wrote about Oklahoma in our fabled state song, “…where the wind comes sweeping down the plain, and the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet,” yet we probably aren’t “doin’ fine” if we are so desperate to tax one of our leading industries, 25 percent to just make budget.

There’s a better way, if you think there is a necessity to push new taxes on electricity generation. There’s an Oklahoma way. Develop a tax approach that makes pollution more expensive, not Oklahoma’s clean energy. And this is an approach being pitched nationally by a large group of prominent, conservative Republicans, who believe it’s time to tax carbon, a real villain, rather than American energy itself.

Former Secretaries of State James Baker and George Schultz, former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, business leaders like Rob Walton, former chairman on Wal-Mart, and many others were in D.C. this month meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and other leaders to detail their blueprint for a $40-per-metric-ton tax on carbon dioxide pollution, with the price escalating over time. And yet the policy would actually protect low-income Americans from higher energy bills, unlike Oklahoma’s proposed wind electricity tax. Under Baker’s proposal, the projected $200 billion to $300 billion in annual revenue from the carbon tax would be distributed to households, by quarterly checks, from the Social Security Administration. It is estimated that families of four would receive about $2,000 a year in payments to them, not from them.

And through it all America would be transitioning, even more quickly to a cleaner energy economy and leading the world.

Oklahoma could lead also by a similar approach, rather than hobbling one of its leading industries, with large investments in the state, by targeting wind. We should target negative aspects of human behavior; such is the justification for increasing cigarette taxes, right?

An Oklahoma pollution tax would make winners out of our state’s cleaner-burning natural gas and wind industries, would drive greater production and demand for both and would in turn reduce health care costs to families and businesses by reducing harmful pollutants in our air. We would send less hard-earned Oklahoma money to Wyoming for imported coal, where we are buying their schoolbooks instead of our own. We would in turn incentivize Oklahoma’s energy future by creating a growing market, not a shrinking one.

“Florida taxes fattening fried potatoes” makes more sense to me than “Oklahoma taxes its own wind.”

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Make American streams dirty again?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on February 6, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Make American streams dirty again?

If you were asked whether you favored clean streams and waterways for America, you would probably agree. But if the question were framed more political, such as do you favor the repeal of job-killing regulations that have impacted coal miners, would your opinion change?

Well either way, Congress has begun, as one of its very first acts this year, to repeal, perhaps forever, a new regulation to keep coal companies from dumping their mining waste into America’s waterways. It was approved within the last months under the Obama administration and so by U.S. law it is subject to revisit by Congress under the “1996 Congressional Review Act.” The Congressional Review Act allows for the repeal of recently finalized regulations if the House and the Senate, by simple majorities, and the new president agrees. And strangely enough, once repealed under the CRA a regulation, or anything similar to it, cannot ever be approved in the future. But enough about process and how it can happen, it seems to me that America should be more focused on if it should happen. Here’s why.

The Stream Protection Rule was finalized by the Department of Interior on Dec. 19 after years of development and public input. According to the department, the rule is intended to protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of American forest by creating a buffer zone between mines and nearby waterways, to protect drinking water and to require coal companies to restore streams and return mined areas to the conditions before the mining activity. Coal’s supporters have been vehemently opposed to this rule, describing it as unnecessary and a duplication of the existing Clean Water Act and they are taking no chances to get it repealed, while acting like the repeal alone could help prop up a declining coal business.

But the reality is that America’s electric sector is moving beyond its former coal-dominant days, towards cleaner-burning natural gas and renewables. Across America, over 300 coal plants have been retired over the last decade alone and more will continue to come offline. And that’s good news for states like Oklahoma, which are blessed with more natural gas and renewable potential than we could ever use ourselves. It’s also great news for anyone with lungs, because the reduction in air pollutants has been significant as older polluting coal plants go offline.

The cost for losing the protections from the Stream Protection Rule is great and irreversible. They are so, because the rule is focused on a practice of mining that involves blowing the tops off of America’s mountains and dumping the mining rock, soil and debris, or overburden, off the mountain and into nearby waterways, damning them up and changing the water quality and ecosystems forever.

Mountaintop mining is a method of coal mining used mostly in the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern United States, where explosives are used to blow up about 400 vertical feet of the top ridges of mountains to reveal coal seams underneath. Then those seams are mined and this higher-sulfur coal is shipped to be burned mostly in the states around Appalachia.

It’s not just about jobs. We Americans should want all Americans to have the opportunity for decent jobs that afford healthy, dignified lives for the workers and their families. And we should want today’s working generations and the coming generations to be in a growing pipeline of jobs that will sustain them throughout their working life. We should resist trying to prop up a fading, and sometimes dangerous, industry when we can help those workers transition to cleaner industries that don’t pollute our rivers, streams and bodies. We can also commit ourselves to protecting the amazing landscapes and purple mountain majesties that bless much of our country’s land. America has that ability if it looks forward, rather than back.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: We need more energy markets, not fewer

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on January 30, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

We need more energy markets, not fewer

Oklahoma’s energy blessings far exceed our own state’s needs and demand, which is why we have long sought markets beyond our borders.

We typically export our state’s largest commodities, especially natural gas, and we have become optimistic about global markets opening up to help take some of the massive over-supply that the American shale renaissance has helped create. A fight with our neighbors in Mexico is not good for Oklahoma, our economy or the promise of moving past the current recession that has gripped our state.

Since 2009 to now, U.S. pipeline exports of natural gas everywhere have doubled and almost all of that growth has been from exports from the U.S. to Mexico. In fact, since 2015, Mexico accounts for more than one-half of all U.S. exports of natural gas. Daily average pipeline exports now exceed 3.5 billion cubic feet per day, which is 85 percent above the previous five-year-period average, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Much of Mexico’s growth in natural gas consumption has been attributed to the growth in Mexico’s domestic electricity demand and the fact that Mexico, like the United States, has been choosing cleaner-burning natural gas for its power plants. Northern Mexico is particularly growing and the demand is expected to continue. In fact, Mexico announced in 2015 a five-year plan to significantly increase its pipeline infrastructure with 12 new pipelines over 3,200 miles, to allow for greater importation of American natural gas for its energy needs. As of today, contracts have been awarded on seven of the 12 pipelines, including a 2.6-billion-cubic-feet-per-day capacity pipe from southern Texas to Mexican states along the Gulf of Mexico.

We should want these markets to grow and we should want this infrastructure to access the massive supply available here in America. Those two things can directly benefit Oklahoma and the many producers who call Oklahoma home, regardless of where they produce.

This month USA Today ran an article that described how “six of the eight top oil-pumping states hit recession,” and the article quoted S&P saying about Oklahoma, “even modest economic softness could have prolonged negative effects.”

We already know that our state budget and economy are in peril because of the massive downturn in oil and gas commodity prices, which have led to serious drops in tax revenues. It is suggested that the 2018 budget will be off another 12.6 percent less spending capacity from even this year’s reduced budget.

Now is not the time to play political games with a neighbor and customer that accounts for such significant growth in our ability to export American and Oklahoma energies. Our economy and our national security are both better served by growing foreign markets for American goods.

Or as President Ronald Reagan said on May 16, 1987: “We should be trying to foster the growth of two-way trade, not trying to put up roadblocks, to open foreign markets, not close our own.”

Let’s throw that idea up against the proverbial “wall” and see what sticks today.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: The energy baseline

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on January 16, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

The energy baseline

The following information is proven by independent, empirical data provided from the nonpartisan Energy Information Administration within the U.S. Department of Energy and is not “fake news,” although it may not jibe with the conventional wisdom created by political theater: American oil production has experienced the biggest increase in history under President Obama’s tenure, up 87 percent.

Don’t believe it? Check out the actual data between 1920 and 2016: www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=MCRFPUS1&f=M.

Now to be fair, not all the credit or blame for America’s energy picture can be attributed to any incumbent president, although most observers would say that more often they get the blame than any credit.

The combination of advances in technology like deep horizontal drilling and hydraulic well stimulation has unlocked massive amounts of previously unreachable reserves. Also, high energy prices had attracted a good deal of investment in this industry, which also helped drive exploration and production. And it might even surprise you to learn that production is also up on federal lands, which did require the approval of the Obama administration.

The same real-life data also proves that “clean energy” production, in the form of renewables and even energy efficiencies, have increased at historic rates, almost tripling during the past two terms. Thanks to hydraulic fracturing, cleaner-burning, abundant, American natural gas has replaced old, dirtier coal plants and transformed the power generation sector.

Yet, if you tuned into the divisive rhetoric of the 2016 campaign for president, you may have left disillusioned about America’s energy picture in spite of the facts. Signs reading “Trump digs Coal” may have helped persuade West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio voters, but the winning economics of cheaper natural gas today may trump any federal effort to prop up yesterday’s coal over the next four or eight years. Also, America now employs more people in solar energy alone versus coal, let alone the many other forms of renewable energy like wind, hydro and biomass.

The state of our country’s energy production reality is strong, and growing. And the gains and direction achieved over the last two terms have all benefited our native Oklahoma as well, with historic growth in the forms of energy with which we are blessed.

As America undergoes a change in presidential administrations, it will be interesting to see what detours from these advances are pushed and what change may occur to the current trajectories. And as it relates to the unique combination of national security and economic prosperity achievable by greater domestic oil production and less imported foreign oil, please follow the facts to see what it may mean for you, your family, your business, your state and your country.

It will be important to recall the energy benchmark of predecessors to measure whether the new guy outperforms the previous guys, as it relates to energy independence. When President Richard Nixon, in his second term, famously declared the need for “energy independence within 10 years,” America was importing 35 percent of its petroleum. Nearing the end of oil-friendly Texan George W. Bush, America was importing nearly 60 percent of its total petroleum consumption from foreign sources and now with President Barack Obama it’s down to 24 percent.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Let it snow

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on January 9, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Let it snow

Snow: (noun) a precipitation in the form of small white ice crystals formed directly from the water vapor of the air at a temperature of less than 32 degrees Fahrenheit/0 degrees Celsius. (Merriam-Webster)

Snow seems to be something that people either love or hate. I love it. In fact, snowfall seems to trigger some inner kid in me, forever long as I can remember, that allows me to enjoy the beauty of it and even admire the way it can slow the hectic world around us even if just for a day. As a kid in the 1970s, I enjoyed making igloos that would last for days and weeks around Kansas City, where I grew up and sledding was also a fun experiment with gravity and speed.

And I recognize that some people really aren’t fans of snow and winter weather. To some it’s just dangerous and an interruption to school, work and life. But there are reasons that all people should welcome snow and what it means for our world. Here’s what I mean.

If you eat you should welcome snow, as it’s a vital part of agriculture production in many parts of America and beyond. Our farmers need snow to provide critical moisture to fields ahead of the planting in the spring. Once it melts it’s providing irrigation across all parts of a farmer’s field, even those areas beyond the reach of irrigation systems.

And it’s even more necessary to help blanket winter crops like Oklahoma’s winter wheat, providing a snow blanket of protection from those extremely cold days impacting the fall plantings. Agricultural shortages, as we’ve seen from drought conditions across parts of our country, are a direct hurt on those producers and an indirect hurt to your family’s budget.

If you enjoy nature you should welcome snow, as its thermal insulation helps many species dig snow caves for hibernating through the winter. Fresh snows, which have a high percentage of trapped air, help to reduce heat transfer and provide great insulation for many animals to survive their cold winters.

If you like a little quiet around you then you certainly must enjoy how fresh snow can lessen sound waves as the snow absorbs snow at the surface. You can probably remember how quiet life feels when you walk outside into a fresh snow. It’s a rare chance to turn down the volume around us.

And beyond these more immediate, obvious positives of snow and snowfall impacting our daily lives, even more significant benefits of snow are how it serves as Earth’s sunblock and water source for our entire planet’s sake.

If you’ve ever looked down at snow on a sunny day you too know that it really reflects the sunlight back off the ground. This may be a nuisance to anyone without sunglasses on, but this reality is critical to helping cool the planet, something that must happen in these winter months or Earth’s climate risks accelerate even faster. And as daylight hours increase toward the spring, late winter and spring snowfalls are even more important as a sunblock, albeit they are becoming rarer over the last 50 years.

Finally, snowmelt from layers of packed snow that have accumulated in mountain regions are one of the primary sources of fresh water on Earth and here in America. It is estimated that our Western states may get as much as 75 percent of their water supply from these snowmelts and even the East Coast areas benefit from the same life-sustaining annual thaw.

So whether you may fear that next snowfall because of traffic worries or you bounce out of bed happy to enjoy a day of play, please know that those tiny frozen water molecules blanketing the Earth are critical to our very survival. Plus, they can be a lot of fun for a kids of all ages.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: One-eyed vision?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on December 19, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

One-eyed vision?

Proverbs 29:18 KJV tells us: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

And while there is debate among theologians about certain meanings and interpretations over the centuries, the underlying notion of vision leadership and adherence to it leading to happiness rather than to perish is clear. Equally important to this idea, I believe, is that the vision must be clear, complete and visible with both eyes.

Such is possibly not the case for Oklahoma legislators responsible for creating the vision for Oklahoma’s future. Our 2017 legislators will be asked to digest recent recommendations of public policy from the Oklahoma Incentive Evaluation Commission, yet the written word is but one-half of the story; one eye on some facts, with a blind one to the rest of the story, so-to-speak.

Here’s what I mean. On Dec. 15 the IEC submitted its report on 11 state economic tax incentives, all reviews of which were performed by an out-of-state firm (PFM) and submitted in November. The report suggested six “retains,” three “reconfigures,” one “allow to sunset” and one “repeal.”

Interestingly enough, the commission voted to accept all recommendations, except they specifically rejected the one “repeal,” thereby telling the Legislature to somehow maintain, in some form, all 11 state economic tax incentives. This may be a tough sell for a Legislature that will be dealing with yet another declining revenue picture and shrinking state budget; early estimates are $500 million less in the coming year.

Yet, our Legislature should take pause at this report, as their actions regarding it will either grow or diminish the state’s vision for years to come. And while I have tremendous respect for the commission members tasked with this difficult analysis, especially considering the short crunch time they had, I have greater concern that our Legislature may rely upon it without their own two-eyed, deeper thinking to get these issues right for Oklahoma.

I work in energy law and I also work in wind energy issues. And from this vantage I know that a full economic analysis of the costs and benefits of any energy tax structure/incentive/treatment must analyze both the local and state impacts. Such is not the case with this firm’s state-focused report to the IEC, and therefore such is not the case with the IEC’s report to the Legislature.

And while PFM admitted it didn’t analyze anything other than calculating costs to the state, some of the crucial failures of their one-eyed approach are:

• The analysis fails to take into account local impacts (schools, counties, cities, landowners), where the majority of the benefits of renewable energy exist.

• The $3.3 billion in appraised value of installed equipment and increased local property tax values and revenue to schools and local governments.

• The $1.2 billion in ad valorem taxes projected to be paid by wind developers between 2003 and 2043, money that wouldn’t exist but for those investments.

• The more than $10 billion invested in Oklahoma since 2003, in landowner payments, local jobs, taxes and investments.

It is right that we analyze annual costs to state government and the budget dilemma, hence costs to all of us, but it is dangerous to our state’s future if legislators act upon one-eyed analysis, especially now when our state family’s budget must plan for a future beyond just this next session. Let’s resolve for 2017 that our Oklahoma vision includes a clear, two-eyed view of the benefits to an energy future that is truly all-the-above as renewables have helped us become.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Are you dreaming of a green Christmas?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on December 12, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Are you dreaming of a green Christmas?

Although White Christmas, the 1942 Irving Berlin classic made most famous by singer Bing Crosby, is a holiday staple in many American homes via iTunes, Pandora, an old CD or your retro turntable, a yearning for a different color this time of year has options too.

And if you are a retailer, you are most certainly hoping for a “green” Christmas in terms of economic activity, as America’s retail industry is expecting Americans to spend around $3 trillion during the holidays, accounting for roughly 20 percent of the retail industry’s total sales for the year. These annual bumps have typically also resulted in nearly 1 million employees being hired for the seasonal rush.

And if you are an electric utility provider you probably also appreciate that Americans annually string lights on their homes, trees, lawns and public buildings, consuming an additional 6-billion-plus kilowatt-hours of electricity every year. And yes, that sounds like a lot; in fact, it alone surpasses the annual consumption of some entire countries’ electric consumption within our own hemisphere, yet it only accounts for about 0.2 percent of America’s yearly consumption. And more modern LED lights, which are safer and cooler than incandescent lights, themselves consume much less electricity. So if your inner Clark Griswold is calling to redo his 25,000 twinkle light extravaganza, please consider the LED options to save some family budget for the eggnog.

But if you are longing for a greener, more sustainable celebration of Christmas this year, consider a series of small decisions that can make a big impact for the Peace on Earth around you. Let’s take the debate on whether to get a real or an artificial tree this year for Christmas. There are certainly pros and cons for both.

Real Christmas trees, planted, grown and harvested on tree farms, have spent their lives absorbing a variety of air pollutants and in return emitting fresh oxygen to the world around them. Most farms replace the cut trees with seedlings that continue the benefits over time and all trees help to stabilize the soil and help reduce erosion. Yet most farms do use pesticides that linger in the atmosphere, including in your home, and these short-lived trees often end up as waste in city landfills or worse. Yet again, however, many cities are now creating mulching and composting programs around these discarded trees, turning a positive for the community.

Artificial Christmas trees do help families avoid many of the annual negatives about real trees, including the ability to reuse the same tree year after year, yet these trees are not without their own ecological footprint. While real trees may be shipped from as far away as Oregon (No. 1 source of America’s Christmas trees), North Carolina (second) or Michigan (third), 80 percent of all artificial Christmas trees sold worldwide are from the Pearl River region of China, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Obviously the effort to transport any tree requires a carbon and energy footprint, and one can argue that a one-time trip for a 10-year tree may be no worse than annual trips from Oregon for 10 years in a row. These trees also contain non-biodegradable plastics, from petroleum-based products, and some worry they may get discarded earlier than their useful life might otherwise allow.

So what’s a green-conscious person to do? Perhaps ask Santa for a live tree that you can plant in your own yard, to decorate and celebrate around for years to come and in turn teach your children the value of the living tree all seasons of the year. Merry Christmas.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Thanks, OPEC?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on December 5, 2016.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Thanks, OPEC?

As an American consumer, more often than not OPEC has truly been a four-letter word, causing price spikes and negative impacts to our broader economy.

But as you fill up your car for holiday travel, at around $1.60 a gallon for gasoline, many Americans can be thankful for the low energy prices fueling their lives. Global oil prices have been under serious downward pressure for the past two years mostly because Saudi Arabia convinced its OPEC brethren to let market forces set the price and production continued to soar.

As an American energy enthusiast, I know that much of the thanks goes to our own domestic producers, the new technologies to discover and recover new reserves and the historic amounts of oil and gas production their ingenuity has made possible, thereby also providing oversupply to the benefit of American consumers.

But as an Oklahoman, I’m hesitant to give thanks to OPEC for much, especially as their two-plus-year campaign of oversupply was probably intended to hurt American producers, many of them right here in our part of the country. And in many ways it worked, as we’ve witnessed massive job losses, business contractions, some bankruptcies and general carnage in the energy services industries.

What is OPEC and why does it matter? Begun in 1960 in Baghdad, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is a permanent, inter-governmental organization whose founding members include: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Nine other member countries have joined over time: Qatar, Indonesia, Libya, United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Nigeria, Ecuador, Angola and Gabon and all other members operate under a Declaratory Statement of Petroleum Policy, which essentially expresses an inalienable right of these countries to exercise sovereignty over their natural resources in the interests of their national development.

These stated rights and purposes led to OPEC’s quick growing prominence as early as 1973 with the Arab oil embargo and its steep rise in oil prices. Since that time global and American economic cycles have been impacted by OPEC’s production and policies, sometimes as a symptom, sometimes the cause.

OPEC completed a deal to cut production (first cut since the recession of late 2008) and adopt other policies that have contributed to a sharp rally in oil prices around the world and here at home. The agreement to reduce their collective output by 1.2 million barrels a day to a new ceiling of 32.5 million barrels was a deeper cut than most observers were expecting.

Saudi Arabia will make the biggest cut at 486,000 barrels, but may actually increase its revenue because of the correspondent rise in prices per barrel. The new wrinkle is that non-OPEC countries, namely Russia, have purportedly also agreed to cut their production as well.

As we Americans also know not to trust Russia without verification, OPEC’s agreement also includes the implementation of a “high-level monitoring committee” to make sure parties abide by the terms of the agreement. They would do well to follow the agreement and enjoy an uptick in commodity prices, thereby earning as much or more revenue while leaving more supply in the ground for their later benefit.

Yet, if oil prices continue to rise, most expect American shale producers to ramp up output in hopes of regaining some lost profits (or at least ending losses), thereby creating a market cap of their own with a corresponding effect on oil prices. So the real question in light of OPEC’s announced production cut is whether American producers will avoid too much production coming back in and causing prices to collapse again.

Yes, I’m a consumer who is thankful to OPEC for the low prices these past years, but I’ll be a more thankful American and Oklahoman with American energy producers back in charge of their own destiny.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.